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Bryant v. Parker

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

June 25, 2019

PHILLIP PAUL BRYANT AND JAMES SCARBOROUGH, Appellants
v.
ANNISE D. PARKER, MAYOR, AND THE CITY OF HOUSTON, Appellees

          On Appeal from the 333rd District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2015-69353

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Higley, and Landau.

          OPINION

          Evelyn V. Keyes Justice

         In this election contest, contestants/appellants Phillip Paul Bryant and James Scarborough challenge a ballot measure concerning term limits for City of Houston elective offices. Following the November 3, 2015 election in which Houston voters approved a measure to amend the City Charter's term limits provisions, Bryant filed this election contest, and Scarborough intervened. Bryant, Scarborough, and contestees/appellees, the City of Houston and former mayor Annise D. Parker (collectively "the City"), filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied the motions of Bryant and Scarborough and granted the City's motion, dismissing all claims.

         In four issues, both Bryant and Scarborough argue that the trial court erred in granting the City's motion for summary judgment and in denying their own motions for summary judgment because the ballot language "affirmatively misrepresented" and "omitted" the "true character, purpose, and chief feature of the Charter Amendment."

         We affirm.

         Background

         In the months leading up to the November 3, 2015 election, the City sought to amend Article V of the Houston City Charter, governing the number of terms and length of each term for City elective office. The proposed Charter amendment stated, in relevant part:

(a) For the purposes of term limits, City elective offices are Mayor, City Controller, and City Council Member (either At-Large or District). The term of office for a City elective office shall be four years. Except as otherwise provided herein, no person shall be eligible to be elected to more than two four-year terms in the same City elective office.
(b) For positions to be elected at the City General Election to be held in November 2015, the eligibility of persons then holding City elective office to seek reelection to a City elective office shall be as follows:
1. A person serving his or her first two-year term shall be eligible to seek two additional terms of four years' duration in that same office. A person having then served two additional terms of four years' duration shall not be eligible to seek re-election to the same office.
2. A person serving his or her second two-year term shall be eligible to seek one additional term of four years duration in that same office. A person having then served one additional term of four years duration shall not be eligible to seek reelection to the same office.
3.A person serving his or her third two-year term shall not be eligible to seek election to that same office.

         Thus, the Charter amendment sought to establish four-year terms of office for City elective offices and to set a two-term limit for holding elective office. The proposed Charter amendment also included specific provisions for transitioning from the then-existing Charter terms, which had provided for two-year terms of office and a limit of three terms in office, to the provisions in the proposed Charter amendment.

         None of the parties dispute that the City met the publication requirements for notifying voters of the substance of the proposed Charter amendment.[1] In the November 2015 election, this measure was submitted to voters as Proposition 2. The ballot language for Proposition 2 read:

(Relating to Term Limits for City Elective Offices) Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to reduce the number of terms of elective offices to no more than two terms in the same office and limit the length for all terms of elective office to four ...

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